Münsterland, Germany, famous for its green, rural scenery and pretty towns. Famous, it is not, for its coal mining. But just outside Ahlen – a town as charming as any in the Münsterland – stands the now abandoned coal mine, Zeche Westfalen.
Work began on Zeche Westfalen at the beginning of the 20th century, funded by an independent cooperative of local manufactures. By 1909 the two shafts were fully built, with each shaft tunnelling downward into the earth to a depth of over a 1000 metres. Coal mining commenced at the Zeche Westfalen.
During the Second World War, over 1000 bombs were dropped on the mining complex during a single air raid. 193 people died during the attack, many of them foreign workers or prisoners of war that had been forced to work at the mine.
After the war, coal mining recommenced at the mine. This bucked the general trend, as coal mines right across the Ruhr were starting to close during this period. The Zeche Westfalen, owned now by the conglomerate RAG, continued to be operational until 1994, when it was eventually closed due to lack of demand.
Light industry is much like nature; as soon as a place is abandoned, it moves in and takes over. Car repair shops are the Japanese knotweed of the economy, sprouting up wherever cheap, derelict space appears. Around the Zeche Westfalen today many such industrial endeavours have taken root. The mine itself and the main buildings are still abandoned, but the periphery buildings have been reclaimed by these invasive trades. The semi-abandoned feeling, the not complete lack of humanity, is perhaps more eerie than complete dereliction would be.
How long the situation will remain as it is at Zeche Westfalen is unclear. Clearly mining will not be recommencing, but there is a strong desire to see the industrial heritage preserved. This should see the two mine shafts retained, along with the conveyor system between them. As for the main generator hall and the large washroom, only time will tell what fate has in store for them.